The Great War of 1914-18 was a great evil but it spawned another that turned out to be far worse. This was the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Red takeover in the aftermath. For the remainder of the century the Soviet empire spread devastation across the globe, not only in it’s own domain but in every other country where its agents and its ideology polluted both politics and the world of ideas. 

Peter Coleman in The Liberal Conspiracy provided an invaluable account of the rise and fall of the Congress for Cultural Freedom, the counter-attack by liberal intellectuals in the battle of ideas. At the time that the story began, Arthur Koestler was convinced that the future of civilisation would be decided by the outcome of the battle between communists and ex-communists like himself. He believed that others could not comprehend the true nature of their adversary, with its capacity to recruit both the best of people and the worst of people. Fortunately he was mistaken and the thin anti-red line was held by a mix of ex-communists and others. 

As we celebrate the Fall of the Wall 20 years ago we should remember the effort that was put in by the Congress during the Cold War. It was a worldwide network, an uneasy involving a coalition of social democrats, social conservatives, classical liberals and others. Not surprisingly, the alliance did not long survive the Fall of the Wall. Robert Manne was a spectacular example of a breakaway from conservativism. 

In its prime the Congress had offices in 35 countries with almost 300 staff supporting a network of cultural magazines, including Preuves in France and Encounter in Britain. It sponsored international seminars on topics including ”Science and Freedom” and ”The End of Ideology.” Soviet repression dominated the agenda but it spoke out against other human rights abuses as well, including apartheid in South Africa, political jailings by the right-wing dictatorships of Argentina, Portugal and Spain; and the denial of passports to political dissidents in the United States. 

The Australian arm of the movement was the Association for Cultural Freedom, led by Richard Krygier , Sir John Latham, James McAuley, Lloyd Ross, Donald Horne, Hal Wootten, John Kerr, Dick Spann, Elwyn Lynn, Owen Harries. 

Quadrant magazine was the Australian organ of the Association. The inspiration and a lot of the perspiration was provided by Richard Krygier who was tireless in pursuit of funds and contributors while he ran the office and kept a cool head through all the drama and uncertainty of the early years. The magazine launched as a quarterly magazine under the editorship of James McAuley in 1955. The early issues make interesting reading, especially for those of us who came to it years after when we had been told that it was a magazine of unbridled rightwing prejudice. In fact it was nothing of the kind. It hosted a wide range of opinions which were expressed with the utmost civility. Peter Coleman wrote:

The first issue was far more literary than some of McAuley’s polemics had suggested it might be. He would not allow Quadrant, he had announced, “to exemplify that ideal of a completely colourless, odourless, tasteless, inert and neutral mind on all fundamental issues which some people mistake for liberalism.” The first issue had poems by Rosemary Dobson, Judith Wright. A.D. Hope, Vincent Buckley and Roland Robinson. (They all were metrical and rhymed.) There were articles by Hope, Alan Villiers, George Molnar, and George Kardoss. There were reviews of Patrick White, David Campbell and Judith Wright.  

Coleman gave an account of the McAuley Quadrants which appeared quarterly from 1955 to 1970 when McAuley moved to Tasmania. Unlike Encounter and many other organs of the Congress, Quadrant continued, through good times and bad, always on a shoe-string budget, serving a broad church of liberal, conservative and even radical ideas. 

The friends of communism had a windfall when it was found that the CIA provided some funds in a roundabout way by contributing to the overseas Congress for Cultural Freedom. As if this invalidated a single word that was printed in the magazine. The knockers of Quadrant have yet to understand or admit that during the Cold War the friends of Quadrant were on the honourable and humanitarian side while the communists and their fellow travellers were not.

Further reading:  

The Liberal Conspiracy 

McAuley’s Quadrants 

Manne’s progress


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